Struggling with your child’s behavior? See the importance of understanding child development and behavior to help you stay calm and patient.
I sometimes imagine what a day would look like if my kids behaved like adults.
They’d share toys all the time, to start. They’d know better than to run with a plate full of crumbs and instead would place it slowly in the sink. Or they might understand it’s the end of the day, and I don’t have the mental energy to listen to endless stories.
Of course, that isn’t what happens—often, the opposite does. And I’d find myself feeling exasperated, wondering, Who’d think it’s a good idea to run with a plate full of crumbs?
But then I’d glance at my shelf and see the handful of books I bought when I first learned I was going to be a mom.
Books about what to expect, down to the week or month of their first year. Others about how much sleep kids need, and every ailment you can find (plus the remedies to fix them).
And I remembered reading books on child development to understand why kids behave the way they do.
Those topics had been so easy to understand back then, before I had kids. Of course it made sense for kids to throw a tantrum, in public no less. And yes, they’ll keep doing the same thing over and over, even after you’d already told them not to.
But as a mom, we forget these understandable reminders, especially when all three kids are talking at the same time as you’re trying to cook dinner.
Child development and behavior
As frustrating as kids can be, I tell myself this important reminder when they drive me crazy:
This is normal.
The way your child behaves, no matter how strange or infuriating, is all part of how he’s growing. Certain parts of his brain haven’t even developed yet—in fact, his brain won’t be “complete” until he turns 25.
And so, this impacts how he behaves. Everything from making impulsive decisions like jumping off the coffee table to throwing a fit because he doesn’t want to take a bath.
As kids mature, they begin to make sense of things, learning and becoming more capable. They won’t cry because you turned off the lights at night, fidget at the grocery line, or hit the other kid because she took his toy.
And that’s just with their mental growth. Child development also affects their physical capabilities and limitations as well. They’ll become self-sufficient and independent, as well as less clumsy with fewer falls and cuts.
But this all happens gradually, especially when you’re about to lose it at the end of the day, exhausted from the day’s nonstop challenges.
It’s during these moments we have to remember that this is all normal. The newborn sleep deprivation, the defiance, the clumsiness. The stories with no end, the sibling fighting, and even the regressions.
Kids are supposed to behave this way. Newborns aren’t meant to sleep 12 hours straight, as much as we’d like them to. Your toddler shouldn’t obey every request you give even though the day would go much faster if he did. And he should take risks, even crazy ones like jumping off the coffee table.
As frustrating as it is, it’s actually more abnormal if kids don’t behave this way. Knowing all this is one thing, but how can we put it into practice?
1. Learn about child development
Don’t get intimidated by the fancy name—child development is simply the way kids grow. Research your child’s age and stage to see common behaviors to watch out for. The range for “normal” is wide and flexible, but milestones and stages help you identify typical issues.
We do a good job of this when our kids are in the infant stages (“He’s going through the 11 month sleep regression!“). But once they reach toddlerhood and beyond, we stop looking. And it’s easy to forget they’re still going through their own milestones and changes.
Another option is to learn not about your child’s age but any issues he may be having. Read through books and websites, or ask other people how they managed. You’ll find ways others have dealt with the same issues, from potty training to picky eating.
Speaking of other people…
2. Find support
Even if you know all this is normal, relying on the support of others helps tremendously. Ask friends with kids how they handle their children’s behavior. Talk about issues driving you crazy, even if to get it off your chest. You can also find support online, like member forums or Facebook groups for moms.
Not all the information or guidance you’ll receive might apply or even help. But I’m willing to bet that the majority of it will. This is your community, a select few who can empathize with what you’re going through and can offer tips on how they got through it.
If anything, you’ll know that you’re not alone, even if it can sometimes feel like it.
3. Don’t take it personal
Learning about how your child grows means you’re less likely to take things personally. Sure, we’re parents and we’ll always feel an emotional connection, both good and bad. But seeing their behavior objectively will help you think and respond instead of react to his antics.
When you’re ready to pull your hair out, separate yourself from his behavior. He’s not crying because he wants to get a rise out of you. Your kids aren’t fighting because they’re purposefully trying to give you a headache. They’re behaving this way many times because it’s all part of how kids behave.
In the thick of the madness, the only thing we want is for it to stop. And who wouldn’t? These moments can feel stressful, frustrating, and overwhelming. By the end of the day, especially when I’m on solo duty, I’m willing the clock to move faster so I can have time to myself.
But sometimes the solution isn’t so much wishing it away, but being where we need to be. This is all normal. We’re not alone.
The more we understand how children develop and grow, the more patient we can be. We’ll take things less personally and understand that these are stages we—both kids and adults—all experience.
Get more tips:
- How Teaching Kids about Emotions Reduces Misbehavior
- How to Set Limits with Your Baby (And Almost Toddler)
- 4 Things You Shouldn’t Say about Other People’s Children
- Why Time Outs Don’t Work (And What to Do Instead)
- 8 Warning Signs You Need to Be a More Patient Mom
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